The Year of St. Joe

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on December 20, 2020

This is the year of Joe. Not Biden. But the main man in the Nativity scene nearest you (since Jesus is but a baby, albeit divine). Pope Francis delivered the news of a year dedicated to St. Joseph earlier this month on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. So, we are already a few weeks in.

Since the pandemic hit, the little things have taken on a new importance. A year ago, going to the grocery store didn’t seem like an act of courage. Charity has taken a front seat, and so has fear. St. Joseph could have been consumed by fear when he heard that his wife was pregnant with the son of God. Could our cynical times receive such news? And yet, here we are at Christmas, which invites us to a renewed humility, to an understanding that our greatest weaknesses can become our greatest strengths.

God Sees the Bigger Picture

“[W]e must learn to look upon our weaknesses with tender mercy,” is how Pope Francis puts it in his proclamation of the Year of St. Joseph. He says: “Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan, were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.”

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So much of what the pope says is relevant to what we are currently living through. Consider these words: “Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us. Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of an inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us.”

Tender love has myriad practical implications. The fact that Joseph is the foster father of Jesus is incredibly relevant. With over 400,000 children in the foster-care system in the United States today, St. Joseph’s presence in a creche scene reminds us of those children who do not have stable, permanent, loving homes — a forever family, as it is often put. If you have a moment to give thanks this Christmas, to see children smile — or scream — under the lights of a tree, remember there are children who have been scarred by trauma and maltreatment. The miracle of a tender heart in their lives could be a way out of the darkness. It’s something to consider.

A Plea to God

And about the other Joe in the news — it can be music to my ears to hear St. Francis of Assisi cited, as the president-elect did after the Electoral College made his win official. “[F]or where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith, where there is darkness, light,” Biden quoted. The pray is a plea to God for the grace to be a vessel of tenderness — the kind of merciful love that is the reason we celebrate Christmas. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,” as John 1:16 famously puts it. I’m hoping against hope that Biden might pay more attention to what the Catholic Church has to say about abortion during his administration.

The day after a big snowstorm in New York, I happened upon some graffiti: “Laugh, cry and honk your [heart] out. Our country is saved. Thank you, Joe and Kamala.” Even the person who wrote that doesn’t really believe that the country is saved, I’m sure. But exuberance is a reflection on how over this year people are. In his words on St. Joseph, Pope Francis repeated what Jesus said to St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” That’s the kind of humble approach we need for a revolution of tenderness that will save us — it’s not up to us, but to God, with our cooperation.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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